Right-Sizing A Home Improvement

Right-Sizing a Home Improvement

Who doesn’t salivate at the thought of a sparkling new kitchen or a luxurious new bathroom? We both do! I (Sarah) even have three scrapbooks chock-full of clippings from shelter magazines like Veranda and House Beautiful with her “dream” kitchen, bathroom, and home office. A girl can dream, right?

But let’s get real about home improvements for a moment. Ogling over pretty pictures in a magazine is one thing. Committing to and then living through a renovation is another thing entirely. There’s a reason all those home makeover shows do so well in the ratings. They let us enjoy the visual payoff of a total room transformation without actually having to lift a finger. The fact of the matter is, taking on a home improvement is no small feat; it requires time, money, and, if you want to conserve those first two elements, organization. If you’re busy, and who isn’t these days, adding managing the dozens of details of a home improvement project to your overflowing to-do list can be just the thing that pushes you over the edge into total chaos.


It doesn’t have to be so stressful. There is a way to right-size home improvement projects so that they don’t upend your already full life. Here are five ways to keep any project, big or small, under control and yourself sane during the process.

1. Know before you go.

If you don’t have real clarity on what the real project priorities are for you before you turn to an expert for guidance, whether that’s a magazine, blog, or interior designer/architect/contractor, things can get unwieldy quickly. Industry experts of all stripes tend to err on the side of “all details are important” if you don’t tell them otherwise. So step one of any project should be: decide on what the real priorities are. For example, if you’re working on a kitchen, you might prioritize cabinets and counters over appliances and light fixtures. Clarity on your priorities means that, when the inevitable budget-busting options are presented down the line, you’ll know how to choose (or direct someone else to choose).

2. Don’t give out any cookies.

There’s a marvelous children’s book out there titled If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, which is about a boy who gives a mouse a cookie, who in turn, keeps asking for additional things. It’s a good metaphor for the world of home improvement. If you give a contractor (or a spouse, or a decorator) the okay to expand the scope of the project once, they will likely keep asking to do more and more things as part of the project going forward. If you’re not careful, what starts small can easily become an unwieldy, expensive mega-operation. Before you hire one person, set foot in a home improvement store, or sit down with a decorator, designer or architect, get very, very clear on the scope of the project and the budget. Write them down. Give copies to everyone involved in the project. Not only will this save you money, but it will also save you time; you’ll be able to cut short any and all discussions related to work that is outside the scope of your project.

3. Make a GANTT chart.

In plain English, a gantt chart is a bar chart that shows the general flow of a project, from left to right. You can create them by hand, or use a computer program like Excel or PowerPoint if you’re so inclined. In the left margin of a page, generate a list of tasks required to get the job done, estimate how long each will take, and whether or not any one is dependent on another being completed first. Then, put dates across the top of the page. Then simply map out when each task can be done. To keep a project on time (and as a result, more likely on-budget too) you will need to pay close attention to any and all dependencies as the job progresses. If you’re hiring a contractor or outside expert to manage things, this is a great thing to ask them to complete as part of the bidding process.

4. Make “option” selections in bulk.

Walk into any home improvement store and you’ll be struck by how many options there are. Who knew that knobs came in so many shapes and sizes? It is very easy to get bogged down by all of the details, especially if you deal with them as they come up. Remember one email or phone call interruption in your day costs you a whole lot more than the 5-10 minutes it takes you to answer the question. It takes your brain another 20 minutes to settle back down from the interruption and get back to what you were doing. So, rather than making decisions piecemeal, designate a few hours on one day to make all of the decisions you need to make regarding knobs, light fixtures, door handles, paint finishes, fabric selections, and the like.

5. Keep it together with a project folder.

There is always lots of “stuff” that accompanies a home improvement project – from estimates to swatches and the like. Keep it all together in one binder and you’ll likely save yourself hours, not to mention blood pressure points.